With their first conference win synonymous with their last time taking the field, the Evanston Red Devil soccer team was riding a little momentum entering the West 4A Regional Soccer Tournament in Green River last week. Evanston bested the Jackson Broncs on a May 5 Senior Day homestand, 1-0, only to have their season come to a close in less than a week, as Evanston fell to the Rock Springs Tigers, 1-0, in Green River on Thursday, May 10.
The postseason scenario looked favorable. The Red Devils had been oh, so close to notching one in the conference win column, going to overtime with Kelly Walsh in both meetings. Moreover, Evanston had tangled tough with the Tigers in each conference tilt — up on Rock Springs, 1-0, until the 30th minute in Evanston, and dropping a tight, 1-0 decision to the Tigers in the Rocket City. And, in Evanston, Rock Springs’ scores all came on penalty and foul kicks.
The sixth-seeded Red Devils and the third-seeded Tigers battled to a scoreless first half in one of two “win and you’re in” state tournament qualifying match-ups, with the Natrona County Mustangs’ 2-0 victory sending the Jackson Broncs back to the Tetons, in the four versus five seed, loser-out contest.
“The first half goes pretty well,” first-year Red Devil boys’ head coach Brian Richins told the Herald. “We’ve had our chances.”
Early in the second half, an Evanston outside defender received his second yellow card, resulting in a red card dismissal. The Red Devils were then subjected to a 10 against 11 player disadvantage, without the benefit of player substitution, for the majority of half number two.
“The guys stood in and battled great,” Richins said. “We’re not just holding our own, we’re actually on the attack.”
Richins credited the Tigers.
“Rock Springs is a great set-piece team,” he said. “We had told our guys that we don’t want to foul them near the goal at all.”
Unfortunately, Evanston was flagged late in the half, setting up the Tigers. Richins said the Red Devil keeper made a stop but, subsequently, a misfire involving an Evanston defender working to stop the Tiger attack near the Evanston goal created the single goal-scoring separation.
“We poke a toe at it, it changes the direction of the ball and we score their goal — against ourselves,” Rich’s said. “And that’s it. We lose 1-0.”
Rocks Springs would then blank Kelly Walsh, 2-0, before bowing to the eventual regional champ, Green River, 1-0, via a 5-3 penalty shootout.
Red Devil soccer has never advanced to the Wyoming 4A State Soccer Tournament in the program’s history. But how close are they? Their coach believes very close, as evidenced by the Red Devils’ performance against Thunder Basin, among others.
Ranked No. 1 all season, and arguably the team to beat at state, the Bolts defeated Evanston 2-0 in a non-conference meeting, where the Red Devils missed two open-net shots.
Coach Richins acknowledged the leadership and contributions of his departing seniors including Nick Kunz, Carlos Tapia, Brock Rigby and his son, Jess Richins, but had praise for his entire team.
“The guys worked extremely hard all year,” Richins said. “In the end? A disappointing way to finish, but a fantastic season.
“The guys grew up, got stronger, got better, they bought in well to our program. We’re that close to being able to write some of our own soccer history, by advancing to state, instead of again being on the outside looking in.”
But Richins envisions more for Red Devil soccer than just earning a state tournament berth.
“One program goal is to attend state every year,” he said. “I want us to start competing for state championships. I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility with the caliber of athletes we have here in Evanston.”
Evanston will be the host school for the 2019 Class 4A West Regional Soccer Tournament next spring. The team’s season-ending awards dessert social will be held on Thursday, May 24, at Horizon High School.